The Smart Villages Initiative, working with its local partner Practical Action Consulting South Asia, held a workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal on 10th April 2015. The aim of the workshop was to learn lessons from Nepal’s experience of micro/mini-hydroelectric schemes for off-grid rural communities and associated initiatives to stimulate productive enterprises which could be shared with other stakeholders in the South Asia region.
Workshop participants were informed about the work of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), under the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, which plays a central role in coordinating the deployment of government and international donor funding for off-grid electrification schemes in Nepal. As well as providing subsidies and support to off-grid energy, it promotes the establishment of productive enterprises in rural communities enabled by energy access.
Key challenges for off-grid energy systems in Nepal include upscaling of implementation, upgrading the quality of electricity supplies, establishing financially viable business models, access to finance, and the need for a more integrated approach to planning incorporating both on-grid and off-grid systems. The challenging terrain and remoteness of communities exacerbate problems of transport costs, operation and maintenance, and monitoring and evaluation.
However, there are opportunities arising, for example, from the return of Nepalese people who have worked overseas bringing relevant skills and money for local investment, and from the potential to connect village-level enterprises to national and international markets provided that the required infrastructure is developed alongside energy services. Progress has been made in establishing productive enterprises in rural communities which now address a wider range of products and services than the traditional agriculture-based activities.
Looking to the future, improved access to finance and markets need to be established for rural communities, and the project development period needs to be shortened by reducing bureaucracy. Additional schemes should be put in place to develop business and technical skills at the local level, and more effective management arrangements need to be established for off-grid energy schemes bringing together community ownership and private enterprise in hybrid management models. Initiatives should build on local cultures and lifestyles, rather than working against them.
A key aim must be to move beyond energy access schemes oriented just to lighting, and focus on a more ambitious approach that fully supports the establishment of local enterprises and new income generating opportunities which are essential to achieving the sustainability of off-grid energy schemes and to realise smart villages.